Second time at Darlington is a charm for Team Penske

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Jimmie Johnson wasn’t the only driver to rebound from a rough performance Sunday at Darlington to Wednesday’s reprise race there.

Team Penske also struggled at the 1.366-mile egg-shaped track on Sunday, with Brad Keselowski finishing 13th, Ryan Blaney 16th and Joey Logano 18th.

Wednesday was a different story, at least for two of the trio: Keselowski finished fourth, Logano was sixth and Blaney couldn’t rebound from a wreck and unscheduled pit stop, finishing 21st.

For Keselowski, it was his best finish and second top-five showing of the season. But he felt the rain that ended the race 20 laps before its scheduled finish also robbed him somewhat.

“We cycled back to fourth right when the (second-to-last) caution (on Lap 196) came out and were in position to have the optimum lane and be behind a car that had older tires,” Keselowski said.

Keselowski worked his way up to fourth prior to Chase Elliott’s spin from contact with Kyle Busch on Lap 202, and then came the rain ending the race six laps later.

“Just part of the way it goes,” Keselowski lamented. “We weren’t the fastest car, but I thought we persisted and put ourselves in a spot to potentially steal a race win with our PIRTEK Mustang and just came up a tiny bit short.”

The driver of the No. 2 Team Penske Ford Mustang led seven laps Wednesday and left Darlington sixth in the Cup standings, 67 points behind series leader and Sunday winner, Kevin Harvick.

For Logano, who won in early March at Phoenix, the last race prior to the hiatus caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, he was back in strong form Wednesday after appearing a bit rusty on Sunday.

Like Keselowski, Logano – who started third – appeared primed to finish even higher had it not been for the race-ending rain.

“Hard fought, blue collar night for us,” said Logano, who led 19 laps. “A lot of the race came down to where you placed yourself.

“You needed the outside lane on restarts. A lot of it came down to strategy. We only had one long green flag run all day, which isn’t normal. Wish we’d have had one more restart in the Shell-Pennzoil Ford at the end.”

Even so, Logano left Darlington second in the point standings, 34 points behind Harvick.

The only Team Penske driver who struggled Wednesday was Blaney. He started fifth and ran as high as second before finishing third in Stage 1. He continued doing well until making hard contact with the turn 4 wall late in Stage 2 that led to an unscheduled pit stop, dropping him to 33rd at the end of the stage.

Blaney would only be able to climb back to 21st before the rain came. He left Darlington 11th in the Cup standings, 90 points behind Harvick.

“We made big progress from where we were on Sunday,” Blaney said.

“Unfortunately, I got loose off turn 4 and made contact with the wall. Darlington has been tough on our team (Wednesday) and Sunday, but I’m looking forward to racing in Charlotte this coming Sunday.”

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Results, point standings after Truck race at Las Vegas

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Austin Hill won Friday night’s Truck Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for his second win of 2020.

He beat Sheldon Creed for the victory.

The top five was completed by Tanner Gray, Stewart Friesen and Chandler Smith.

IndyCar driver Conor Daly finished 18th and Travis Pastrana was 21st.

Click here for the race results.

Point Standings

With his win, Austin Hill is the first driver to advance to the second round of the playoffs.

Todd Gilliland is last in the playoff standings with 2,050 points. He is 13 points behind Ben Rhodes.

Click here for the standings.

Austin Hill wins Las Vegas Truck race

Austin Hill
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Austin Hill won Friday night’s Truck Series playoff race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, leading the final 39 laps to score the victory.

Hill took the lead on a restart and held off charges from Sheldon Creed over the final 20 laps.

Creed’s progress was slowed with 11 laps to go when he got loose and scraped the wall in Turn 1. He was never able to get close enough to Hill to make a challenge.

Creed dominated the early portion of the race, leading 89 laps before he struggled to get going on the final restart and briefly fell to seventh.

The win is the second of the year for Hill. He’s the first playoff driver to win in the postseason and it come after he finished 25th at Bristol.

“We didn’t have the best truck tonight by no means,” Hill told FS1. “Pit crew did a hell of job on that last pit stop getting me into the position I needed to. I just had to go out there and get it. … Sheldon was definitely way faster than me. … I was probably looking in my mirror more than I was our front. I knew he was better than we were.”

The top five was completed by Tanner Gray, Stewart Friesen and Chandler Smith.

More: Race results and point standings

STAGE 1 WINNER: Sheldon Creed

STAGE 2 WINNER: Sheldon Creed

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Tanner Gray, Stewart Friesen and Chandler Smith all matched their best results of the season … While he was the first driver to finish one lap down, IndyCar driver Conor Daly placed 18th in his first career Truck Series start … Travis Pastrana placed 21st in his second start of the season.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Rachael Lessard finished 20th after he had to pit early in the race following contact with the wall … Ben Rhodes finished 23rd after he spun from contact with Stewart Friesen and hit the inside wall on Lap 84 … Jordan Anderson’s engine expired on the ensuing restart. He finished 32nd.

NOTABLE: Natalie Decker, who was not medically cleared to compete Friday night, was treated and released from the infield care center.

WHAT’S NEXT: Race at Talladega Superspeedway, 1 p.m. ET Oct. 3 on FS1

 

Natalie Decker not medically cleared for Las Vegas Truck race

Natalie Decker
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NASCAR announced right before Friday night’s Truck Series race that Natalie Decker hadn’t been medically cleared to compete.

No details were provided about the issue that prevented Decker from being cleared. During the final stage of the race, NASCAR announced she had been treated and released from the infield medical center.

The Niece Motorsports driver would have started 23rd. Due to her No. 44 truck having cleared inspection and having been placed on the starting grid she was credited with a last-place finish.

Decker has made 11 starts this year. She missed the June 28 race at Pocono after she was hospitalized due to bile duct complications related to her gallbladder removal in December.

Brandon Brown hopes to shed underdog role in Xfinity playoffs

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Brandon Brown knows the odds are against him advancing beyond the first round of the Xfinity playoffs.

“If I went out and we did a survey and we asked 1,000 NASCAR fans to create a playoff bracket, I guarantee that 90 to 99 percent of them have me getting eliminated in the first round,” he told NBC Sports.

But that’s not stopping him.

Brown is in the Xfinity playoffs for the first time, earning the final spot last weekend with his family-run team. He enters Saturday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) last in the 12-driver field. Brown has 2,000 points and is 10 points behind Ross Chastain, who holds the final transfer spot, entering the first round.

MORE: Saturday’s Xfinity race start time, lineup, forecast

Regardless where he is in the standings, Brown still met the team’s preseason goal of making the playoffs.

“It’s hard to put it into words,” the 27-year-old said of making the playoffs. “It’s so exciting and so thrilling. We’re just happy. Life is good. We’re seeing the fruits of our labor.”

Much of the Xfinity playoff focus will be on Chase Briscoe, who enters with a series-high seven wins. Or Austin Cindric, who won the regular-season title. Or Justin Allgaier, who has won three of the last seven races and could be the favorite if he makes it to the championship race at Phoenix Raceway.

Brown, who is in his second full season in the series, has four consecutive top-20 finishes going into this weekend. He knows the challenge he faces.

He said a key for this weekend is to have no mistakes, be running at the end and try to take advantage of any mistakes other playoff drivers have.

Then, he’ll look to Talladega. He’ll have an upgraded Earnhardt Childress Racing engine for that race, the team spending the extra money for the engine upgrade.

“I go into that track with confidence,” he said. “I need to go out there and make it happen, go win and make an name and go ahead and punch my ticket.”

While Brown knows most look at him as the underdog of these playoffs, he hopes to drop that title someday.

“The goal will be to get rid of that underdog title and to build that program that is going to be looked on as a powerhouse of the NASCAR Xfinity Series,” he said. “I enjoy the ride (as underdog), but now I’m ready to advance past it.”

Points entering Xfinity playoffs 

2,050 – Chase Briscoe

2,050 – Austin Cindric

2,033 – Justin Allgaier

2,025 – Noah Gragson

2,020 – Brandon Jones

2,018 – Justin Haley

2,014 – Harrison Burton

2,010 – Ross Chastain

2,002 – Ryan Sieg

2,002 – Michael Annett

2,001 – Riley Herbst

2,000 – Brandon Brown

First Round races

Sept. 26 – Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

Oct. 3 – Talladega Superspeedway (4:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

Oct. 10 – Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (3:30 p.m. ET on NBC)